Rethinking Traditional Fireworks

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - December 31, 2008
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I loved New Year’s Eve when I was a kid. There was all that food - my mom would spend the day stuffing mandoo wrappers with a spicy mixture of pork hash and long rice. We always had the Korean dumplings two ways: crispy fried and plump-and-pillowy floating, in a hot, savory broth.

I loved how she would prepare the kalbi, massaging the ribs with her favorite kitchen tool - clean hands - coating the meat with velvety sesame oil, handfuls of green onion, a bit of sugar and dark, rich shoyu. My mother never used a recipe, relying instead on memory, texture and taste. She would pull off tiny bits of the raw meat every now and then and pop them into her mouth (how else to tell if it’s good?). More shoyu, she’d instruct us, more oil. Toss in the toasted sesame seeds and lots of garlic. Mix, marinate, then burn - I mean grill - on the hibachi. Mmm, heaven.

I loved the big, white angel food cake piled high with whipped cream and studded with frozen strawberries Mom would make for my birthday, which was the next day, Jan. 1. It was luscious, lavish and my favorite treat (until I succumbed to severe chocolate addiction years later). That cake - sticky and sweet - will always be perfect in my mind. I can taste it still.

And, yes, I loved the firecrackers. Back then we thought the only way to ring in the new year was with a great, big bang. We breathed in acrid smoke and thought it was worth the thrill. We dodged live firecrackers tossed our way and covered our ears as the explosions built to a deafening crescendo at midnight. On the first day of the new year we walked on streets piled ankle-deep with red paper, smelled the smoke lingering in the damp morning air and never gave a thought to the pollution, or the people who may have lost limbs or lives, or the police, paramedics and fire-fighters exhausted after coping with our night of pyro insanity.

Well, times have changed and so have I. And I believe many Hawaii folks, even those who grew up believing that it’s not New Year’s Eve without the fireworks, can sense that things have gotten out of hand. That’s because our world is different now. There are a lot more people crowded onto our little island state. That means more fire hazards, more smoke, more noise. I have friends who leave the Islands to escape from the choking haze. Pets go crazy. Our asthmatic kids wheeze and suffer. And our firefighters, paramedics and police again will exhaust themselves trying to keep us all safe. It’s getting harder, and they pray for rain.

I say we keep the good traditions and rethink the bad.

I’m looking forward to ushering in 2009 with sashimi and kalbi. As a nation we are looking ahead, clear-eyed, optimistic and ready- more than ready - for a new president and even a new, grown-up attitude. It’s an excellent time to take stock of some of the things we’ve always done that just aren’t working anymore - like divisive politics, wasting energy and going bonkers with fireworks every New Year’s Eve.

Maybe it really is time for a change.

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